It’s two days before Independence Day, and I’m thinking about how politics for many people has become like religion.
When I was sitting in confirmation class at First Lutheran Church back in the early 1960s, Pastor Anderson would often make a point about the truth of the Lutheran tradition by comparing our practice to that of the Catholics, who always did it wrong. I imagine it went the other way for the kids at Holy Innocents down the street.
We didn’t have dialogues about religion back in that day. We had arguments. They were about absolutes which couldn’t be empirically confirmed. The arguments were based on what you heard from an authority: usually the Bible as interpreted by each Protestant denomination or the pope. The Jews back in Manitowoc usually weren’t taken seriously enough to even be included in the doctrinal bickering.
Right during the time I was in confirmation class, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962 which seemed to open the door to the “ecumenical age.” Most religious folk in this country decided it’s no longer ecclesiastically correct to dis someone from another faith.
These days, it seems to me, politics has replaced religion as the place where exchanges are usually contentious. In fact, politics seems to have become religion.
A very conservative Republican told me, “When I want to know what the facts are–what is really going on–I listen to Fox News. All of the other media sources put a liberal spin on the facts.” The next day, a liberal told me that she gets the truth from MSNBC and the Progressive Magazine–the facts that the mainstream media won’t tell us–because they are beholden to corporate sponsors.
Faith not facts
I’m hearing “I believe” often in political conversations. In the Senate hearings on the fumblings, if not the downright deception of the IRS, I heard one Senator say “I believe that you are lying” three times to an IRS representative he was questioning. No facts. No evidence. Just “I believe” spoken with enough certainty in his tone that I was surprised that some in the courtroom didn’t jump up, wave their hands in the air and shout “Amen.”
Words like “I believe” are religious language, and they tend to stymie any kind of collaborative problem solving.
The theologian Paul Tillich defined God as a person’s ultimate concern. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures declare that your god is what you love with all your heart and soul and strength. Most religions, the theistic ones anyway, claim that whatever happens to you when you die is determined by how you relate to your ultimate concern.
What is written on tombstones in our cemeteries says a lot about the ultimate concerns of the person lying underneath it or their family.
Watching how far a person’s blood pressure rises when they are discussing political issues is also a good measure to read their ultimate concerns.
One of my friends, for example, gets very agitated when talking about climate change. She declares, “If we don’t do something radical right now, the world will go to hell and the earth will become a cinder.” The imagery she is using is religious.
Similarly, a Time Magazine article about how Social Security may run out of money by 2030 used the following language: “A look at the coming RETIREMENT ACPOCALYPSE and what we have to do to avoid it.”
In my opinion both religion and politics have gone too far but in opposite ways. Religious folk, in this part of the world at least, bend too far backwards in saying that all religions are alike.
Buddhism and Christianity for example, differ greatly both in terms of the desired destination in life and how to get there. Nirvana for a Buddhist is very different than heaven is for Christians. What’s more a Buddhist google map will direct you to detach from attachments to avoid suffering, while a Christian trip tic will declare that it is the suffering of Jesus that saves us and that if we choose to follow where he leads, we will in one way or another suffer like him.
Politics, on the other hand has gone in the opposite direction. Everyone joined in praising Howard Baker, who died last week, as the “great conciliator.” In other words, he didn’t demand my way or the highway. He didn’t forecast an apocalyptic end to existence as we know it if his political agenda wasn’t implemented. His mind could be changed by reasonable persuasion.
But then pundits went right back to demonizing the opposition and refusing to compromise. It happens in the nation’s capital. It happens in Forest Park.
Politics doesn’t deserve our ultimate concern. Although capable of doing more good than harm, politics is incapable of producing heaven on earth, because the kind of power it wields can’t change human nature.
Maybe we need a Senator John XXIV to convene a political/religious Vatican III.